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Word of Mouth - Johan Caspar Lavater; the 18th century Zuckerberg?

Word of Mouth // Education // Jan. 17, 2017

Question: Can you judge a book by its cover or a person by their facial features?

Well we probably would say no, but in effect we do this subconsciously all the time.

One Swiss man devoted his life to the study of physiology and was convinced the face and its features could be read like a book.

When Zurich writer, philosopher and theologian Johan Caspar Lavater died in 1801 he was one of the most celebrated men on the planet. His enormously popular Essays of Physiognomy was acclaimed across Europe.

Lavater believed that you could tell almost everything from a person’s facial features. Lavater’s physiognomy was an exact science that could judge mental abilities, characters, and emotional attitudes. He revealed this ‘science’ in hundreds of illustrations of noses, foreheads, and chins, with detailed and emphatic descriptions.

The condensed version, ‘the Pocket Lavatar’, was plagiarised, copied and reprinted all over the world. It was a phenomenal success. Lavater’s work was the ‘facebook’ of Enlightenment, and Lavater was its Zuckerberg from Zurich.

According to The Gentleman’s Magazine of London, his book was considered “as necessary in every home as the Bible itself”. Lavater’s knowledge was wielded with severity by the legions of Lavaterists.

The Gentleman’s Magazine wrote.: “A servant would scarcely be hired until the inscriptions and engravings of Lavater had been consulted in careful comparison with the lines or features of the young man’s or woman’s countenance”.

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